Inside Pulse 12

Review: Party Hard (PC)

partyhardboxParty Hard
Genre: Stealth
Developer: Pinokl Games
Publisher: tinyBuild
Release Date: 8/25/15

There was a time in my life where I lived in an apartment and the neighbors in the unit above mine would constantly be blaring music loudly at all hours of the day and night. Several confrontations did nothing to make the situation any better, and there were nights I was only able to relax enough to fall asleep by thinking of different scenarios about how a chainsaw might be used to silence them forever. So when Party Hard opened with a video of a man who had finally had enough at 3:00am and decided to put on a mask and go kill everyone at his neighbor’s party, I felt like I could relate to it a little.

The game is displayed from a top down, zoomed out view, with the entire area on screen at once. The party is going on, and you, the Party Hard killer, are given an objective at the beginning of the map. That objective throughout the game is “Kill Everyone.” You don’t do this by just running up and murdering everyone; I tried that, and what happens is either the rest of the party attendees will smear you across the dance floor and/or someone will call the cops to come arrest you. The game is meant to be played stealthily, where you pick off the different party goers one at a time. This is done through finding one isolated from the rest, stabbing them and either hopefully hiding the body or getting away from the area where they died fast enough that no one links you with the crime and calls the cops on you.

partyhard2Isolating different party guests can be tricky, especially at the beginning, because there are just so many guests and any one of them with a line of sight can potentially see you. There are other ways to kill as well, however. Within the level there are traps you can spring, such as poisoning the keg or fruit punch bowl, setting up the speakers on the dance floor to explode, electrocuting the floor, and more. At the beginning of a level it is fun to set as many off at once just to get that kill number up and to cause as much chaos as possible, though sometimes it’s better to wait in order to maximize the damage and to spread the crowd out. There’s a risk with setting off many at once, in that some survivors become extremely anxious and appear to be more observant.

On top of that, there are suitcases or a vendor that will give out special items, like a bomb, a smoke grenade or a change of clothes, which grant the player different abilities and ways to help take everyone out. This gives the player an additional edge, which is almost a must in the later levels. If, for some reason, the traps and items don’t prevent a party goer from identifying the Party Hard killer, there are also some escape routes in the level that help the player evade the cops. In order to prevent that from being abused, if a person does use one of the escape routes to get away from the police, an 8-bit Mario will come out of the toilet to brick that route off.

One nice thing is that, while the levels themselves aren’t procedurally generated, there will occasionally be differences in the number and type of potential victims, the traps and the items available. Once I was using a zebra to just kick people over and over again, but when I restarted the level, there wasn’t a zebra there anymore; however, there was a new trap elsewhere in the level to replace it. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s a nice way to change things up when you’re butting your head into one level over and over again.

partyhard3Graphically, the game is done with simple sprites that I enjoy. It’s not really 8 or 16-bit, it’s a hybrid retro style with a lot of color and variation. There’s a high variety of the types of guests, for example, and the things you might see them do within a level. For example, there are party attendees that look a lot like tiny John Cenas and Hulk Hogans (and the first time I snuck up on a mini-Cena and murdered him I did say ‘I guess you couldn’t see me’). The levels offer a bunch of variety in theme; there’s redneck, rooftop, Vegas, Halloween, and many more. The difference in level theme also provide different tactics, like in the rooftop themed ones you can throw people off of the roof and, therefore, don’t have to hide a body. The levels are almost entirely visually different, which is nice, since the objective stays the same throughout. The little animated pixel people dance, serve drinks, work as bouncers, go off to make out and do a surprising amount of little things.

I really like the music as well, as it’s a chiptuned party music soundtrack with some beats that sound fairly close to some real life songs. There’s also little screams and stuff in the game that work as audible cues that can help the player tell if a body is discovered elsewhere or if someone is calling the cops.

The narrative of the game has a storyline running throughout it that is intentionally campy and weird, if a little predictable. No spoilers, but I enjoyed the goofy over-acting of the fully voiced cut scenes. There’s a part about one third of the way into the game, though, that included a little twist that was never capitalized on or hardly mentioned again that I thought could’ve been interesting to see more fully developed. It works to carry the game through to the conclusion though.

I played the game with both an Xbox controller and with the keyboard and I found both to be comfortable. I’m more of a controller guy, personally, but I found myself without and found the keyboard controls really easy to use.

My biggest complaint about the game would be the lack of variety in the game itself. The objective from the first mission remains the same through to the end: kill everyone. The tactics mostly remain the same, as well: use the traps, pick off people and then take out the final few. The final few are pretty easy, since there’s a lot less witnesses and usually all you need to do to get them alone is dance near them if they’re in a cluster and at least one will break away from the pack. So traps, items, pick off, kill the last few, repeat in the next level. While the differences in traps and levels provide different ways of going about this, the core game remains the same throughout. I would’ve either liked some different objectives or challenges within the levels to break this pattern up.

partyhardI also don’t think the difficulty is balanced all that well. New enemy types are added, like bouncers and eventually FBI agents, the latter of which are actively hunting the player towards the end of the game. They’re not added slowly so you learn how to deal with one or two before figuring out how to deal with more, they’re just added with no introduction or any idea given to the player of how to deal with them. Some parties are much more difficult than others as well; there’s one that’s really difficult earlier on and one that’s really easy later, for example. It lacks a sense of building up to a climax in the difficulty of the parties.

Beating the game doesn’t mean you’ve seen all of the tricks it has. There are unlockable characters, with two of them changing how you approach the game, one of those characters dramatically altering the approach. The developer plans on adding additional twists (recently aliens and zombies as events), extending the life of the game. There are also high score lists and while there’s unfortunately no leaderboards to compete with other players on, you can replay levels in an attempt to beat your own high score. I think leaderboards and a clearer sense of how to gain more points could’ve made this a competitively interesting game, so I hope that in the future they might consider such.

Short Attention Span Summary:
I really enjoyed Party Hard and continue to play it off and on. I’m a bit predisposed to enjoying retro art games with good music and messed up ideas, so this fits right into my niche. It’s an interesting take on the stealth genre, is darkly comedic and frankly a bit therapeutic if you’ve ever had really loud neighbors.